Listen, I’m not a food blogger or an expert in any way about being a hostess. But I do love the holidays and over the years I’ve experienced some crazy, stressful Thanksgivings traveling with infants and toddlers, trying to fit in feedings and naps and keep everyone with food allergies safe. I’ve been in a kitchen with half a dozen grown women running around frantically twenty minutes 'till mealtime with oven doors flying open, knives wielded, people snapping at each other, and everyone’s tension escalating everyone else’s stress. I bet you have some stories to share as well.
I’ve also experienced more relaxing Thanksgivings where it didn’t seem to matter what time we ate or that we forgot one of the side dishes in the fridge. When cooking was a team effort full of laughter and tasting as we stirred and chopped. When I felt God’s love tangibly in the room and my heart was truly thankful. And although some of the stresses of Turkey Day can’t be avoided or even expected, there are things we can proactively do to make this year’s Thanksgiving the best version of itself.
Not in a selfish “this is how I want it” way, but in a “this is how God made me and I’m going to embrace myself” way.
Our culture is all about the picture perfect Thanksgiving, the kind Chip and JoJo would orchestrate in a home they designed with food prepared from Jo’s cookbook. Your friends, acquaintances, television, and social media will share a thousand and eight new recipes you’ll want to try this year, some adorable, simple decorations you can make for less than $9/each, and comfortable, casual, yet awesome outfits you should definitely be wearing.
All these things are great.
New recipes are fun.
Decor feels festive.
And I do love a cute outfit.
But hear me and hear me loudly, YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ALL THE THINGS!
If you love to cook–chef up your favorites. Spend a couple days leading up to Thursday making those homemade rolls with the dough that needs to rise overnight and browning the flour for the gravy (it’s a thing–a family tradition on my dad’s side). If you’re attending a large gathering, sign up to bring multiple dishes.
If you don’t like to cook. Don’t.
Delegate the cooking. Order a fully-cooked turkey, bagged salad, and instant mashed potatoes from Kroger. Or offer to wash the dishes or entertain the kids to allow someone else the freedom to be in the kitchen. Or buy scrumptious bagels, fresh fruit and coffee from a local cafe for breakfast.
Same holds true for decorating or running in the local race or participating in the annual family Turkey Bowl. If you love to decorate, go all out. If you don’t. Light a candle that smells like Fall Leaves or an Autumn Walk or Pumpkin Spice and call it a day. If you’re a runner, run. If not, give a polite pass, or participate in the walking portion of the race. If you love football, bring your gym shoes to participate in the family game. If not, cheer on the sidelines.
You get the idea. God made you love cooking or great with kids or with a passion to make things spotless or provided you extra money in your account. Use the gifts He gave you and don’t wear yourself out trying to be someone you’re not. You’ll have more fun, be less exhausted, and make the contribution you specifically were designed to contribute, allowing others to make theirs.
If you need to go to bed early, be honest and say, “I love you all, but I really need to call it a night.” If being around alcohol or nuts or something else is potentially harmful for you don’t serve them or politely ask your host ahead of time if these items could be avoided. If you are traveling and your day ends better with a piece of chocolate or the sound of a portable fan or begins better with a specific coffee creamer –bring those things with you. If you need a moment or ten by yourself, graciously excuse yourself to go to your room or take a walk or whatever you need to do to be able to breathe deeply, whisper a prayer, gather yourself. You don’t have to be “on” the whole weekend.
It sounds so simple, right? But have you prayed about your Thanksgiving? Have you asked God to make it enjoyable? Have you asked Him to help you find peace? Have you asked Him how you can make it simpler? Or how you could make it simpler or more enjoyable for someone else? Have you asked Jesus to help you get along with the person you always seem to struggle with?
God is available 24/7 and wants to hear everything you’re excited or worried or disappointed about or overwhelmed by this Turkey Day. Bring it all to Him. He loves you. He is with you. He is for you. And He only wants goodness for you.
By praying you’ll be able to process your thoughts and concerns, share your burdens with someone who really cares (Jesus), and entrust the very best advocate to help your Thanksgiving be better than you imagined.
his is what the holiday is all about.
We’re told to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This doesn’t mean we have to give thanks FOR all circumstances, but IN them. Holidays can be hard sometimes. We might be missing someone or the travel or the hosting might feel overwhelming in our current season. We might be coming into Thanksgiving sick or exhausted. But God still has goodness for us. Despite our circumstances.
If we’re worn out, we can thank God for a cozy quilt or a morning where we can sleep in. If we’re missing someone we can thank God for our lovely memories with them. If we’re struggling with dietary restrictions, we can thank God that someone was so intentional and made gluten free stuffing or pie. If we have to be with someone who pushes our buttons we can thank God for someone else in the room who makes us laugh. We can thank God for watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving or getting to see our aunt that we only see once a year or kids who are singing silly turkey songs or outlining their hands and turning the drawings into turkeys.
When we give thanks dopamine and serotonin are released in our brains–happy chemicals. Giving thanks brings us joy. God knew this all along, that’s why He instructed us to give thanks in all circumstances. Because no matter what our circumstances, He wants us to experience joy.
I can’t promise your Thanksgiving will be perfect or easy. But if you embrace how God created you, take care of yourself, pray, and give thanks to God, your Thanksgiving will be the best possible Thanksgiving it can be this year.
And speaking of being thankful, I’m thankful for all of YOU for reading and joining me as we tear down the lies of this world together so we can more fully live in Jesus’ truth. Happy Thanksgiving!
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I’ve popped into three different stores over the last week that all had fall and Halloween decorations on display. Listen, I LOVE fall, but …wait a minute! Where did summer go?
Do you remember how your summer started? What you were feeling? Praying for? Hoping for?
We don’t have to start buying pumpkin spice everything (although you can if you like). We can intentionally push pause and take a look at how summer went down before we fast forward into fall.
Can you picture the start of your summer? Mine looked like this–with both my life and dining room packed with good things and chaotic messy things too. Why did my dining room look like this? All summer long? Because I have college kids who I adore. And our dining room acted as a storage unit for their college things. It made for a summer full of joy and love and clutter.
What were you thinking and experiencing back in late May or early June?
Summer was also pretty upside down around here. We had a pipe leak that flooded our kitchen which has now been basically gutted. We also needed a new roof and our air conditioning was broken all summer long. So people slept wherever it felt the coolest on any particular day and we had workers plus their dog on our roof and inside our house.
What took you by surprise this summer?
And summer was amazing. We ate ice cream and painted pottery and went to the beach and played cards. We went on walks and runs and the athletes in our crew did crazy workouts. We cooked yummy food and ate dinners on the porch as the setting sun streamed through the trees. We watched movies and had great conversations and laughed so very much. Big decisions were made in our family. Some powerful experiences took place. Prayers were prayed. And we created some really great stories we’ll probably be telling for years to come.
What were your favorite parts of summer?
Jesus taught me so much this summer.
He answered specific prayers I’d been praying for months.
He asked me to let go of trying to control some things (including having a floor or cabinets).
He reminded me that the little things are so little. And the big things like love, peace, and joy–they’re what matter most, and also what He provides in abundance.
My dining room is now empty. The kids have gone back to school. Yes, I miss them like crazy (see the last blog), but I’m also excited about fall–the soccer games and Cross Country meets, some new projects I’m working on (can’t wait to share soon), apples and pumpkins and all the fall things. With this shift in seasons and schedules there will be new things I have to figure out. New prayers I’ll pray. New things God will want me to learn.
But before I dive in, I want to pause.
And reflect on what Jesus taught me over the summer. It was all too good to skim past. I don’t want to forget.
Here are some questions to contemplate before we dive into fall:
So here’s to the shift into fall, to new beginnings, colorful leaves AND to holding fast to who God is, how He so faithfully loves us, and what He’s taught us. Here’s to remembering all that Jesus did for and taught us over the summer AND to keeping our eyes open to what He wants to show us about His love and goodness as our schedules, needs, demands, and hopes once again shift.
What did God teach you this summer?
How can I be praying for you as you enter into fall?
I’d love to hear.
Some other things I learned this summer came through incredible conversations with over a dozen awesome Christian women in my What Women Can Do series. If you missed it, you can check out those convos here.
Also…just in time for fall I’m offering 10 Minutes for 10 Days–a quick, FREE, and easy Bible study geared to get back to hearing God better and sensing Him more fully in this new season. If you’ve gone through this with me before, please join in again. It’s a great refresher to get rid of some of the clutter in our lives and minds to make more room for Jesus. And if you’re new here–welcome! I’m so excited for you to join in! The study starts September 4 Invite some friends, your small group, Bible study, sister, or do it solo.
To sign up to get your FREE 10-day Devotional click here (PDF will be delivered via email on September 1)
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We moved our 22-year old son to Michigan this week. He was on a ministry tour most of this summer, but up until this week he has always lived in Oxford where we live. We move our 19-year old daughter back to college tomorrow. Also, our baby starts his junior year of high school tomorrow. Friends, I need so much right now. I need prayers and I need Kleenex. I may or may not have said out loud, “I need chocolate.” But what I really need is Jesus.
As I’ve chatted with other friends over the last couple of weeks, they all need things too. For some, money is tight and an unexpected bill showed up and they need some finances to go exactly right. For others their body isn’t working the way they want it to work. They need healing and patience with themselves. Other women I’ve chatted with need discernment. They have opportunities and options and ideas and want to do the right thing. Other friends have mentioned they need more time, someone to answer the phone so they can make headway on an issue, a chance to catch their breath, help with a relationship. But honestly, what they all need is the same thing I need and the same thing you need, too–Jesus.
How can I be so sure one guy is the end all solution to all our needs? Well, Psalm 23 tells us, The Lord is my shepherd, I have EVERYTHING I need. So when we let Jesus shepherd us, we truly have everything we need. Sound kind of general? Or to good to be true? Still not sure how that applies to your specific situation?
Let’s take a look at what we need, who Jesus is, and how those line up.
Need peace? Stressed out? Anxious?
Jesus is the Prince of Peace and His peace surpasses all understanding.
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).
Need protection? Scared? Vulnerable?
Jesus is our protector
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior (2 Samuel 22:2-3).”
Need comforting? Sad? Maybe even heart broken?
Jesus is our comforter.
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort (1 Corinthians 1:3).
Need provision? Out of time or money or resources?
Jesus is our provider.
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
Need a friend? Lonely?
Jesus promises to always be there for you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
Not sure where to go or what to do?
Jesus will direct your steps.
Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take (Proverbs 3:6).
I don’t know where you need to put these verses to remember. I don’t know which one will resonate with you most today. But write it out. Make it your screen saver. Look it up in your Bible and underline it. Pray it out loud. This is truth.
I’m reminded of that scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when there’s a run on the Bailey Savings & Loan. One woman says her husband hasn’t worked in months. Another person has doctor bills. Everyone needs money for different reasons and seemingly out of nowhere Mary shows up holding a wad of cash and shouts, “How much do you need?”
Miraculously, it seems, each person’s need is met by the money in Mary’s hand. The clock strikes. The bank closes. And there are even a couple of dollars left over. It didn’t run out. That’s just what a fictional newlywed can do (Mary is awesome by the way) but think of how much incredibly more Jesus is capable of. He has everything in His hands that you and I need, an abundance of it. It won’t run out.
Sure, there will still be days we need Kleenex and doctors and chocolate and time and our paycheck to clear. But with Jesus’ mighty, awesome, powerful, holy, eternal self on our side? Who can be against us? And why should we fear? Jesus is everything we need.
Free Bible Study....
I LOVE the trails by our house. It’s where I run and listen to worship music and clear my head. It’s where I meet friends for long walks and even longer chats. But recently I put on my running shoes, stretched my muscles, drove over to the trails, and found a giant orange “Trails Closed” sign. Obviously this was not my plan. And I am a girl who really likes to stick to her plan. As disappointing as it was that my agenda was no longer an option, there were other options.
I’m very good at getting lost and very poor at navigating directions of any kind. But I do love the woods. So I gave the road less traveled a try. Robert Frost would be so proud.
In the twisty trail through the woods I ran across quaint wooden bridges, emerged out into the open and passed a field of spectacular wildflowers. Back in the woods I ran around giant stumps and past streams that provided a soothing soundtrack of rushing water. Most of the time I didn’t know where I was or how far I’d gone or how fast I was running–things runners tend to track, but it didn’t matter, because it was an adventure in itself, the discovery of what’s next, and oh, look at that–it’s all so very beautiful.
I’m excited to return to my normal trail. But my new path will stay in my rotation. I have to watch my step on the new route, because there are roots and rocks and ridges. I run slower on this trail, due to all the watching of my steps. But it’s quiet and peaceful and calming and restorative. I’m so grateful I was forced to find it. Which is great, and I’m sure you’re all very happy for me for finding a lovely place to explore the woods nearby, but that’s not the point.
The point is that we often have a preferred way, a plan in our pocket, the way we want things to go, and when we don’t get that option we might get frustrated or feel put out or even freak out depending on the situation. But God always has goodness for us. On the path we pick AND on the one we don’t.
Often our preference is valid because it works better for us. We’ve chosen to go to that church, work place, or school, because it’s good for our soul, makes us happy, fills a need or serves us or someone we care about well. We develop ways of loading and unloading the dishwasher, routes to work or school, a specific system to schedule our days, weeks, months, and years with certain rhythms, priorities, calendars or apps because those things work for us, please us, or are simply convenient. And that’s great. The more we learn about ourselves and what God has for us in this season, the more we should chase after those things that bring us closer to Him, help us live out our callings, and are good for our physical, spiritual, and mental health.
And also…sometimes God has new things for us to discover, new people He wants us to meet, new ways of doing things that could be even better, or better for now, or something unexpected that could help or grow us. Sometimes He has streams and Black-eyed Susans and slatted bridges waiting for us that we didn’t even know existed.
And other times, we plain won’t get our preferences. Little things happen like storms knocking the power out or traffic backing up a road. We work within a group and somebody has to carry the gear and take out the trash and pay the bills, even if that’s not our preference. We’re at someone else’s place and they don’t do things like we do, yet we know we should respect their rules, routines, and recipes. Big things happen too. Churches shut down. Someone else’s idea gets picked. Another person’s choice impacts us in a challenging way. We don’t get the job or assignment or contract or position or grant or scholarship we applied for. We lose someone or something we love. The person we were counting on bails. And back to the smaller things…trails get closed. Just saying.
And in these times–both the big and small ways things don’t go our way–God has goodness for us.
The last verse of Psalm 23 declares “surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that He came so that we can have an abundant life. There is goodness for you and me all our days. There is abundance for us when we follow Jesus. Whether that’s where we planned to go or where the alternate route takes us. Whether it’s our first or last choice. There is goodness. There is abundance. Around every turn or bend when we walk through this life with Jesus.
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While on vacation our family went to Mellow Mushroom for trivia night and their delicious pizza (I love the Great White with sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and ricotta). The Trivia Master asked questions about Taylor Swift, what kind of car Knight Rider drove, the ingredients in soy sauce, how high fleas can jump, and so many more. I knew the answers to some questions like: Who sang “Chain of Fools”? Aretha Franklin. And some I had zero idea like: Who was the first president to live in the White House?
But I didn’t have to know about the White House, because my 17-year old son is a history buff and loves presidents. He whipped John Adams out of his brain faster than kids jump in the pool when the lifeguard blows their whistle signaling adult swim is over. I also didn’t need to know about baseball or bones because my mom, daughters, and husband knew all kinds of trivia I was clueless about. And when none of us knew the answers, we laughed at the ridiculously obscure questions and made silly guesses. It didn’t all depend on me. I wasn’t fully responsible. No one expected me to have all the answers. Because I had a team.
The same holds true for life. You don’t have to have all the answers, run damage control, sort through the emotions, or do all the work by yourself. God never intended for us to do life alone. As soon as God finished making the first human, God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” Then God immediately made Eve, so Adam wouldn’t have to do life solo. God knew from the get go we are better together.
We wrestle with decisions all by ourselves not wanting to inconvenience or worry the people around us. We start something new and hesitate to share our ideas or dreams, because we don’t want to be critiqued or dismissed. We try to do all the things for all the people without asking for help, because we don’t want to let anyone down. Or maybe we just like things done our way. Or maybe we’re plain stubborn. We keep our mental health struggles to ourselves, because we worry what others might think, or because we don’t want to be a burden. We try to figure things out solo, because surely we’re clever enough to do so or we don’t want to appear weak or less than. But what if someone could give us helpful tips or lend a hand or carry some of our load or be a safe place to process? It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.
We are currently experiencing an epidemic of loneliness noted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a recent report as something that’s “damaging the health of individuals and our society.” The report goes on to state, "Relationships help our overall well-being, and lead to healthier and more fulfilled and productive lives.” Being alone increases our risk of dementia, depression, heart disease, anxiety, and stroke. As God was saying, “It’s not good for people to be alone.”
Listen, I’m an introvert, so doing things solo is my natural tendency. And I’m a writer, so my job largely consists of stringing words together on my laptop–by myself. So, I need to be intentional about not isolating. I have to schedule walks and coffee dates with friends. I have to make an effort to blurt feelings and ideas out around the table or on the phone with people I love and trust. And when I share what’s on my mind, what I’m excited about, what I’m struggling with, what I’m dreaming and scheming and praying about with close, trusted friends or family, I’m a better version of myself. I get support and insights and ideas. I’m asked great questions, given wise suggestions, and feel seen and heard. People pray for me and check back to see how things are going. I receive love. And it’s beautiful. You can have all this too!
What’s going on in your life? What are you most excited about? Struggling the most with? What’s your first thought when you wake up? The thing that’s keeping you up at night? The thing you’re praying your heart out about?
Does anyone know about it?
Try inviting someone you trust, someone who loves Jesus and will keep you pointed toward Him into what’s occupying your time, heart, and mind. Ask for help if you need it or get it off your chest or explain that you just really need someone to listen. It will do wonders.
God has always intended us to share our lives. Friendship appears over and over in the Bible as a way people got through some extremely high highs and low lows. King David had his best friend Jonathan. Ruth had Naomi. Jesus surrounded himself with the disciples. We weren’t meant to do life alone. We’re better off when we share the struggles, triumphs, and even random ideas of our lives with others. Who knows, if you do, you might even win at trivia.
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Have you seen the movie The Adam Project? Without spoiling anything it’s about a forty-year old pilot who travels back in time in an attempt to save the world from some nasty tyranny. In the process he encounters his twelve-year-old self. Because it’s time travel, there are rules about not interfering with the past, but there are some things that forty-year-old Adam really wants twelve-year-old Adam to know. It’s my birthday today, and I’m feeling reflective. I’m wondering what would I tell twelve-year-old Laura if I could?
What would I tell myself in sixth grade? The girl with the giant glasses and braces and frizzy hair whose Dad had left again? The girl who believed all her friends were prettier and cooler and more interesting than her? The girl who believed her brother was smarter and more talented than her? The girl who loved books and learning and school and ballet, but hated the fact that those things made her brainy and nerdy and not like everyone else?
What would you tell your twelve-year-old self?
Would you believe you?
Gosh, there’s so much I would want to tell junior high Laura (starting with suggesting some curl cream and highlights). I’d tell her that Jesus loved her so much that He would never leave her, even if other people she loved did. I’d tell her that Jesus knew everything that was going on in her life and in her heart, and that it was safe to tell Him anything and everything. He wouldn’t think she was weird or silly or make fun of her. He loved her just how she was. But I don’t know if telling her would actually mess things up, if it would prevent her from some of the things she had to learn by trying, experiencing, crying, failing, getting back up again, and somehow getting through, gaining insight, and growing in the process.
There was an interesting plot twist in The Adam Project, not where the older Adam is talking to the younger Adam, but where their Dad is talking to them. The dad goes on and on saying, “I love you. No, I really love you. I want you to understand how much I love you. I’m so proud of you. I want you to believe me, I love you.” Or something to that effect.
This is the part that did me in.
What is way more valuable than what I would tell my younger self is what God, my Heavenly Dad, my Creator, the One who makes rain fall from the sky and grows plants from the ground would tell me, what He was telling me then, and is telling me now, and is telling you, but that was and is so hard to hold onto in this world of ours.
Jesus would tell twelve-year-old me, and fifty-four-year old me, and my kids, and my friends, and everyone reading this the same thing. He would say, “No matter what other people think of you, or even what you think of you, I love you and chose you even before I made the world.” (Ephesians 1:4)
God would go on and on like the dad in that movie saying, “I love you. I made you exactly how you are on purpose and I think you’re really amazing, actually breathtaking. I love that you’re… shy/loud/artistic/athletic/a thinker/a doer/someone who enjoys that kind of music or food or art or books or activities/chatty/quiet/logical/a dreamer… all of it. I love you so much, I’d do anything for you. I gave my very life for you, because I want to be with you always. I’m never leaving you. No matter what you did or do. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
Today I turn fifty-four. This is my present to me and to you. This reminder that the thing Jesus most wants us to know is that He loves us. He tells us over and over again in Scripture and if His words weren’t enough and we had some doubts, He died for us. Talk about all-in love. Walk around like you believe this today. In your conversations and interactions, in your work and your play, when you’re alone or with others, live as if you are fully loved for exactly who you are.
Because you are.
Believe down to your bones not just in a theoretical God, but a living, active Savior who loves you desperately. Your self worth is wrapped in Him and not of this world. Part of me wants to shake twelve-year-old Laura and tell her this. But she eventually learned it. These days I’m trying to hold onto this truth and live it out every day. Join me?
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I was on a run, almost at the end, when God nudged me to go spend a few minutes in the bird blind adjacent to the trail. Which seemed weird, because I had less than a half mile left, it was freezing outside, and although I’d been in the fenced off sanctuary designed to view birds, I pass it frequently and rarely enter. But I felt pulled. So I ran off the trail and unlatched the gate.
I had no idea what God had in store for me here. But I felt like there was something, so I sat on the bench behind the wooden wall “blind” to the birds, but able to see them through the slats. And in two minutes I saw redhawks, cardinals, a blue jay, a goldfinch, a purple finch, and several other birds I couldn’t identify darting about and eating from the bird feeders. They were an actual rainbow of feathers feasting on seed someone smarter and kinder than them regularly puts out for them.
I was dazzled by their colors, but also by Jesus’ words coming to life right before my eyes, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”--Matthew 6:26
I have a lot of things I’m praying for and waiting for right now. Things that I don’t know how they’re going to turn out, what next steps are, how all the pieces will fit. And yet, God was reminding me, “Laura, look. You don’t have to worry. I will provide. In fact, you can flit around like these birds completely carefree, enjoying themselves and the feast in front of them. See these birds.” I felt God kind of tapping me on the knee, making sure I was paying attention. “I 100% care for them. But you, you are infinitely more valuable to me than these birds. I’ve got you.”
I bet you have things you’re praying for, situations you don’t know the endings to or even the middles to, as well. But Jesus tells us, “No need to worry. I love you. And I’ll provide for you. Everything you need. You mean the world to me.”
I love how this verse is translated in the Message:
Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
Jesus invites us into this free and unfettered life. One without cares, because we know God cares for us. Sound inviting? It’s available 24/7 with no cost of admission. All we have to do is follow Jesus.
Sure, we still have responsibilities. We need to send the emails, go to the appointments, take care of ourselves, do the prep, put in the time. We’re still entrusted to do the good work God has put in front of us. Those beautiful birds I saw all had to fly to the bird blind, land on the feeders, and grab the seeds with their beaks. But they had zero worries that those feeders would be full. We can follow suit. Go where God sends us (even if that’s a bird blind), action what He calls us to do, and trust in His abundant provision, allowing us to live as carefree as birds.
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At the beginning of 2022 God placed a word on my heart to focus on throughout the year–JOY. It was interesting to me, because I believe most people would describe me as a joyful person. I’m definitely a glass half full kind of girl. But sometimes, I struggle to fully accept the joy Jesus offers me, as if there is a limit to the joy I am entitled to, and I don’t dare exceed that limit. Do you ever feel that way?
Jesus said He came so we can have an abundant life (John 10:10). And we’re instructed by the Apostle Paul to, “Rejoice! Again I say rejoice! (Philippians 4:4).” Turns out we’re not only allowed, but encouraged to dip our toes in the joy pool.
To remind myself, I wrote out Nehemiah 8:10 at the top of my calendar page each week of 2022, “The JOY of the Lord is my strength.” It centered me, reminding me that Jesus had joy for me, more than I could imagine, joy I should be jumping into, not just taking what I thought would suffice.
And so, because Jesus is Jesus, He kept reminding me throughout the year. A reader sent me the most adorable card with JOY on the front. My kiddos stopped in a boutique that had sticky notes with Bible verses on them. The shop owner encouraged them to take one. They selected one to bring home to me with Psalm 16:11 on it. I’d just written a book on the Psalms (you can find it here), and specifically a chapter about this Psalm. It’s all about God’s protection. But even in my studying and actual writing of that chapter on Psalm 16 I’d never paid attention to the word JOY smack in the middle of it. In Your presence is fullness of JOY. Not a little joy, not enough joy, but full-on, ridiculous amounts of JOY. This is what Jesus wants for us, not just for me, for all of us.
Over the summer God gave me more meaning to this word. I was given a wonderful opportunity, but full disclosure, I was afraid to step into it. And as I was planning a new week and writing this verse once again at the top of my planner–it hit me in a fresh way. The joy of the LORD is my strength. God’s joy is what gives me the strength to do the things He puts in front of me. We don’t have to be strong enough. Because God’s joy steps in and becomes our strength. Wow! That whole thought process really blew me away.
As the year came to an end, God used this verse one more way for me. Someone told me my joy was, wait for it, MY strength. I almost fell out of my chair. The joy of the Lord is MY strength. And I, Laura Smith, am fueled by the joy Jesus gives me. I love that. I can think of no other strength I’d rather have.
One word. Three ways it impacted me this year.
What I’m trying to say is the Bible is dang powerful. I enjoy reading every single page. Reading the entirety of the story of Jesus’s redemption and love for us that flows from Genesis all the way to Revelation is powerful. But even one tiny verse can power punch through an entire year. The Bible is alive and active. I’m not sure what word or verse God is going to give me for 2023, but I can’t wait to see how He’s going to use it!
You? Do you have a word, phrase, or verse for 2023? Any good stories of how God used a word or verse in your life last year? Share in the comments so we can marvel together at God’s word and His work in our lives.
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The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in her role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz on display. The shoes are iconic. Even though Dorothy’s charmed slippers were silver in Frank L. Baum’s book, they were changed to a spectacular ruby red for one of the first major motion pictures to be filmed in color. And Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” gives me goosebumps every time. But I believe this pair of shoes is considered a piece of American History because of Dorothy’s story.
If you recall, Dorothy is a farm girl living in Kansas wishing for a more spectacular life. When a tornado blows through her farm, she gets hit in the head and has a fantastical dream about going to the land of Oz. In Oz she is instructed to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,”. It is along this road that Dorothy meets three friends, all of who are critical in figuring out who she is, her strengths and weaknesses, when she should step up, when she needs to ask for help, what she is capable of, what she truly wants, and how to get there.
That’s what we all want--isn’t it? Directions on how to get from where we are to where we hope we’ll be? The right people to help us get there? A better understanding of what our heart’s desires actually are? And once we’ve figured that out, we want to know how to find those heart’s desires--how to act and ask for assistance and use our gifts and rely on others to find them.
Those ruby slippers that walked and danced along the yellow bricks are kept on display, because they are symbolic of our own life’s journeys and the steps we’re taking.
But we don’t need jeweled heels or someone to paint our sidewalks and Instafeeds canary yellow. We have the God of the Universe. The Psalms repeat this refrain to us, of a God who leads the way to a life better than we’ve ever imagined.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he may fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.--Psalm 37:23-24
Our steps are established. So if you don’t know what you want to be when you “grow up” or if you’ll ever get married or if you should move or start your own business or retire or stay awhile longer, you can be assured that the God of the Universe has already established your steps. He knows what happens in your next chapter. If you have three choices, God knows how things will go if you pick A, B, or C. Don’t worry, He’s going to guide you along the way, nudging you to select the choice He knows is best for you. Just like Dorothy saw a sign that read, ”I’d turn back if I were you” and met the Scarecrow to help her think through things, God will give you signs and introduce you to wise friends who can help you discern God’s ultimate route for you.
Verse 5 of this same Psalm says, “Give God the right to direct your life,
and as you trust him along the way,
you’ll find he pulled it off perfectly!” TPT
If we trust Him--God pulls it off perfectly! I love that.
But what if we pick the wrong route? Or don't trust God’s signs or nudges? Unfortunately sometimes I want an answer now, and force-fit a decision into my timetable or parameters. What then? Are we lost in the woods to be locked in the Wicked Witch’s castle forever?
Because our God loves us too much for that.
Even if we choose differently, God holds our hands and helps us get back on track if we’ll let Him. The Psalms remind us of this truth over and over again:
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.--Psalm 40:2
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.-Psalm 23:3
When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place.-Psalm 118:5
Life throws a lot of questions our way. Some days it feels like we’ll never know if we should accept that offer or turn it down, start dating again or take a break, apply for that position or the other one, keep quiet or speak up? But God has already ordered our steps and wants to lead us in paths of righteousness, put us in spacious places, lift us up, and hold our hands along the way.
So what are we waiting for? What are we worried about? All we have to do to find our heart’s greatest desires is not follow the yellow brick road, but follow Jesus. He’ll lead us to joy, love, grace, and freedom.
For more on the Psalms discover my new book Restore My Soul: The Power and Promise of 30 Psalms
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I had never been to the iconic Bluebird Cafe before, and this intimate music venue knocked my socks off. I had never walked the streets of 12 South in Nashville, even though I’ve been to the city many times. And as I strolled with my oldest daughter we discovered some super cute shops and this adorable sign.
I love my life in Ohio–my home, our adorable college town, and my local coffee shop. I love the trails I run on, the people I interact with, and the brick streets. But no matter how much I love this place, it’s good for my soul to see other places, to experience new things, taste new foods, run new routes, have my eyes opened in different ways, because it helps me look at things in an “I’m ready to discover something kind of way.”
And God always has new things He wants us to discover.
About ourselves. About the world we live in. About Him.
Jesus was always giving His followers a fresh perspective. He took the disciples places they hadn’t dared to go, like walking through Sychar, a town in dreaded Samaria, to talk to a woman at a well. The disciples were surprised Jesus even spoke to her.
Why did Jesus take them there? I believe He went that route specifically to find this woman, one of His children who He loved, who needed His grace. Why did He take the disciples with Him? Maybe to show them that everyone, including the Samaritans they were prejudiced against, were invited into God’s kingdom. Maybe to show the disciples how much Jesus cared for and elevated women, even when society disregarded them. Maybe to show the world how one person could make a huge difference. The woman, after all, went and told her townspeople about this man she’d met at the well. And we’re told:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony.-- John 4:39
Maybe for all the above reasons. This was a trip and a route and a person the disciples would have never seen if it weren’t for Jesus.
What would have happened if the disciples had refused to come with Jesus, said, “No thanks, we don’t like that road or that town. We’ll just go the long way around Sychar”? They would have missed it all. They’d have kept their narrower view. Missed all that we see by reading and studying this story.
On another occasion Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain with Him to pray.
As he (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. –Luke 9:29-32
Wowza! Peter, James, and John were some of Jesus’ disciples and best friends. But after seeing this? Witnessing with their very eyes Jesus in His holiness, as bright as lightning? They dedicated their entire lives to sharing the Good News that Jesus was the Messiah, offering love, grace, and forgiveness to everyone who believes in Him. Peter and James gave up their lives for the cause and John was sentenced to solitary confinement for his dedication to telling the world about Jesus. They were all in. Was it because of this day?
The Bible tells us Jesus took the disciples up the mountain with Him. What if they had said, “Nope, not feeling it today. I’m tired. I have a lot to do. I’m not a big fan of hikes.” They would have never seen Jesus transfigured. Never seen Him with Elijah and Moses, heroes of their faith by Jesus’ side.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss whatever God has in store for me. I don’t want to be too set in my ways to discover all that Jesus wants to show me.
So how do we do this? Have our eyes opened?
First, by praying. Asking God to open our eyes, show us more of Him, helps us understand Him more fully. You can literally pray these words, “Jesus, I want to know you better. I want to see the bigger picture, understand Your glory, Your plans, how You love people, what You want me to know and understand. Please open my eyes to all you want me to see. Amen” It’s that simple.
Secondly, by trying new things. If we’re always in the same places doing the same things it will be harder (not impossible) to experience fresh perspectives. Try going somewhere new, making a new recipe, using new soap or lotion or perfume. Change your workout from a walk to Pilates or from biking to hiking. Or even change the time of day you walk your dog. You’ll be surprised by the different people you encounter, the way the light is different in the afternoon than in the morning, and how different the comings and goings in your neighborhood, campus, community are at different times of day.
One weekend in Nashville visiting my oldest daughter wowed me with songwriting from musicians I’d never heard of that made me weep, inspired me with artistic charcuterie that reminded me loveliness can be in the details, introduced me to new people from Canada, Wyoming, and of course Nashville. I noticed the signs, the roads, and menus, because they were all different from the signs, roads, and menus of my day to day. I went to a different grocery and got fresh ideas for dinner. I popped in one-of-a-kind boutiques and got new outfit inspiration for clothes I already own. I stood in line next to a man who helped an elderly woman to her car and gave a stranger directions. Watching him reminded me of the sheer beauty of simple kindness.
Back in Ohio I feel like my senses are on high alert, ready for newness at every turn. What if we all went around like this every day–open to God’s wonders and discoveries? If we all went where Jesus nudged, noticed what Jesus pointed out, paid attention to the people He put near us, really tasted the food we’re putting in our mouths? Would it change things? I believe it would.
God is so much greater, bigger, more powerful, more glorious than we can imagine. I love how He shows us glimpses of His character and creativity at every turn. I want my eyes open to all this wonder. I’m making it my aim to give it a go.
What new thing will you do today to help awaken your senses to what God has in store?
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Laura L. Smith